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UK Marine Policy Statement

Submission to DEFRA Consultation: UK Marine Policy Statement

Submitted 11 October 2010
  1. The Geological Society is the national learned and professional body for Earth sciences, with 10,000 Fellows (members) worldwide. The Fellowship encompasses those working in industry, academia and government, with a wide range of perspectives and views on policy-relevant science, and the Society is a leading communicator of this science to government bodies and other non-specialist audiences.
  2. We are grateful for the opportunity to respond to this consultation. We recognise that the proposed statement addresses the framework and high-level policy context within which Marine Plans will subsequently be developed, and would welcome the opportunity to discuss and respond to more detailed policy and implementation documents in due course.
  3. The Geological Society has no particular concerns about the proposed planning framework and processes, although we are not adequately informed to comment on the detail of these processes. We identify below some of the key geoscientific concerns relevant to policy-making in this area.
  4. We are pleased that the consultation document recognises a number of areas of interaction between the marine and geological environments, including sea floor integrity, geodiversity, coastal zone management, hydrocarbon extraction and CCS, exploitation of marine aggregates, and submarine geomorphology. However, there appears to be little recognition of interactions between subsurface submarine geology and other elements of the environment and ecosystem, besides resource exploitation, and this may constrain the perspective on marine policy and conservation implied by the document. The shape and character of the seabed, and the properties of its subsurface, are significant elements of the marine environment, influencing habitats and ecosystems, and are of great importance in their own right.
  5. In formulating marine policy, it is important to consider the vital continuing role of geologists in characterising the seabed and subsurface. This work not only underpins exploitation of resources recognised in the consultation document (for example in locating and extracting aggregates and hydrocarbons, identifying opportunities for carbon storage, and siting and foundation design of wind turbines), to the enormous financial benefit of the UK, but is also essential for understanding past and present climate change and ecosystem behaviour. The techniques used for such exploration range from geophysical surveying tools (side-scan sonar and shallow seismic profiling) to direct sampling of the subsurface, by obtaining ‘cores’ through offshore drilling.
  6. Because many of the sand deposits on the shelf around the UK are highly mobile, it is necessary to repeat sonar scanning frequently, to ascertain the patterns of change.
  7. Sediments are moved in and out of estuaries by the tides, carrying with them pollutant loads which can affect surrounding habitats, and much work remains to be done regarding collection and geochemical analysis of suspended sediments to understand these processes and their effect on seabed life.
  8. In addition to their role in informing our understanding of past global variation in temperature, atmospheric and ocean chemistry, and their effects on ecosystems, cores obtained through offshore drilling are essential to effective coastal zone management, especially in the context of anticipated rises in sea level. They can help to ascertain the frequency and effects of storms on beaches and submarine sediments through time (one large storm can wipe out the sedimentary accumulations of decades), tidal and seasonal movements, long term estuarine sedimentation, and human effects. Improved understanding of these processes, and of the interaction between them, should inform decision making regarding whether to preserve coastal regions through beach replenishment or emplacement of structures, or to abandon them.
  9. The Geological Society would be pleased to help facilitate further discussion with the geoscience community regarding any of these issues, whether now or in the development of Marine Plans and other downstream policy.